Sunday, January 15, 2017
Fehim Tastekin reports that many Syrians blame Turkey, once a close ally of Damascus, for the war, which has claimed the lives of more than 400,000 people, according to United Nations and independent estimates.
Tastekin, a columnist for Al-Monitor’s Turkey Pulse, reports from Damascus that “being a Turk in Syria is a bit difficult nowadays. No one will harass, insult or attack you, for sure, but everyone has a few words to say about Ankara’s transition from friend to foe.”
Tastekin writes, “In a cafe booked by a group of friends, the owner had joined the dancing patrons. When he learned we were Turks, he couldn't resist a few stinging words despite all the commotion around. 'Six years ago, I was an [Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan fan, and the two countries were friends,' he said. 'A Turkish friend who used to come and go cautioned me to go easy, saying that not everything is what it looks like. He proved right and we were badly mistaken. Still, I wish the best for the Turkish people, but the harm that Erdogan did to us will unfortunately reach Turkey as well.'”
Syrians doubt Turkey’s ability to restrain terrorist armed groups in Syria. “The international media may be preoccupied with the cease-fire,” Tastekin reports, “but one can hardly say it has led to great excitement in Damascus — not because of indifference, but because there is little faith that Turkey can fulfill its commitment to rein in armed groups. And the groups that really give the Syrian army a hard time are Jabhat Fatah al-Sham and the Islamic State (IS), which are excluded from the deal. Put briefly, the sentiment in Damascus is that the cease-fire is better than nothing, but a far cry from fixing all problems.”
Damascus swirled with speculation that Erdogan and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad might meet at the upcoming summit in Astana, Kazakhstan. “According to Syrians,” Tastekin writes, “the prospect of Assad sitting at the same table with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is hard to swallow. Yet even if the two come together for the sake of national interests and diplomacy, Syrians say this would be seen as Erdogan’s defeat, not Assad’s.”
Tastekin observes, “The war comes to Damascenes in the form of killer rockets fired abruptly from the countryside, water and power cuts that make life unbearable, soaring prices, searches at checkpoints that slow traffic and more than 2 million people displaced from war zones. Still, the city continues to function, and social and economic life remains vibrant.” Fighting in areas west of Damascus has led to a potable water crisis affecting as many as 5.5 million in and around the capital.
Reporting from Aleppo, where a UN official last week described the destruction as “beyond imagination,” Tastekin reports, “I encountered deep anger against Turkey. When people heard we were Turks, their attitudes hardened. The question we heard most was, 'Why did Turkey did this to us?'”
Tastekin discovered “that the Russian military police sent to Aleppo were mostly Chechen. All 250 of them were said to be loyal to Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov.” Tastekin said his knowledge of the Caucasus facilitated his conversations with a Chechen soldier. “I asked him, 'Ah, you were serving under Shamil Basayev.' He panicked and signaled me to shut up. From 1992-1993, Basayev was tolerated by Russia and had recruited volunteers from the Caucasus and participated in the battles of Abkhazia. Basayev later emerged in the battles for Chechnya's independence and fought against the Russians. In the second Chechen-Russian war, Basayev's forces split; some joined Kadyrov, and those continuing to resist Russia set up the Caucasus Emirate. These two groups became dedicated enemies. Some from the Caucasus Emirate joined Jabhat al-Nusra (now Jabhat Fatah al-Sham) and the Islamic State (IS) in Syria. Now Basayev's former soldiers were allied with the Syrian regime to confront their former comrades. It was not wise to share a hotel with these soldiers: Finding another hotel became the first task of the next day.”
Tastekin’s account offers firsthand testimony from Syrians about the role of Jabhat Fatah al-Sham and other armed groups, a perspective often left out in the simple "government vs. rebels" narrative in much mainstream reporting on the conflict. “I was terribly shaken by what I saw in Aleppo. It became meaningless to ask who was responsible and why,” Tastekin writes.
Abadi seeks reset with Turkey, Saudi Arabia
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi is seeking to improve relations with Iraq’s neighbors in support of Iraqi unity, the shared threat from the Islamic State (IS), and the need for stability in Iraq once the terrorist group is defeated, Ali Mamouri writes.
Iraqi-Turkish relations, which have been particularly acrimonious because of the presence of Turkish forces in Bashiqa — the Turks are reportedly there to train fighters against IS — may have steadied, at least for now, after Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim’s visit to Baghdad on Jan. 7. At a joint press conference, Bildrim backed Iraq’s “territorial integrity” and Abadi declared that “Iraq’s request for the withdrawal of Turkish troops from Bashiqa was agreed.”
Mamouri quotes a source in intelligence that the “recent rapprochement between Iraq and Turkey was the result of ongoing efforts by the intelligence apparatus to resolve disputes between the two countries behind the scenes with Abadi's support and guidance.”
The Iraqi source also told Mamouri that efforts are underway for a possible rapprochement with Saudi Arabia. The day after Al-Monitor published Mamouri’s article, Reuters reported that Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari had been carrying messages between Riyadh and Tehran in an attempt to reduce tensions.
Such an effort by Abadi could provide a much-needed spark for an Iran-Saudi dialogue on regional issues. The Iran-Saudi divide has inflamed crises in Syria, Bahrain, Yemen and Iraq. The prospects for an improvement in Iran-Saudi ties may have been set back last week by the death of former Iranian President Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who had been a proponent of rapprochement between Tehran and Riyadh.
In an exclusive interview in 2015, Rafsanjani told Al-Monitor, “We do not inherently have any issues with Saudi Arabia or other Arab countries, because they are Islamic, and we see cooperation with them as a priority in our constitution. Even though they provided support for Saddam [Hussein] during Iraq’s imposed war on Iran, our differences were very quickly resolved once they responded to Iran's postwar policy of detente and stepped forward to cooperate. The  killing [of Iranian pilgrims] in Mecca was among the disputes, and it was resolved by the order of the Imam [Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini] because the essence of the matter [of our relations] is not such that we [inherently] have conflict. … Recent events in the region, meaning the events in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Bahrain, are among the issues that have created a distance. Of course, if the Iranian government and [its counterparts] decide to work together, things won’t be difficult and will be as they were in the past. It is possible to normalize the situation with a swift move for the sake of the Muslim world as a whole. I really believe it is possible.”
Ali Hashem writes that Iranian-Saudi relations have otherwise mostly suffered from “a lack of conviction in the necessity of rapprochement.” He continues, “There are also other causes for the tensions. One main element missing is regional stability. Another missing element is the presence of political influencers who dare to take initiatives despite the repercussions. The regional struggle is no longer political or driven by economics. Blood between those fighting in the name of Iran and its regional foes is being shed in the name of God — and this makes a solution in the near future a godly solution.”
Read more: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2017/01/syria-deep-anger-turkey-war-iraq-abadi.html#ixzz4VskwvnrO
A group of "progressive" Saudi women made a music video that has over four million views on YouTube. The video shows women dancing to music in public (prohibited in Saudi Arabia) and wandering around outside without a male escort (also prohibited in Saudi Arabia).
But the video, intended to be progressive, unintentionally proves to be a parody, because these progressive women who are dancing and singing and showing their independence are all wearing burkas. Even their faces are covered, except for their eyes. In Saudi Arabia, the cutting edge for women is dancing and singing with a sheet over your body. The idea that they think their act of rebellion is progressive when they are afraid to even show their face is funny and sad.
Read more: http://www.americanthinker.com/blog/2017/01/saudi_women_protest_sharia_law_by_dancing_in_burkas_in_music_video.html#ixzz4VsikNUm4
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Saudi Arabia's top religious authority has called cinemas and singing concerts harmful and corrupting, in a move that could complicate government efforts to introduce cultural reforms to the conservative kingdom.
The comments by Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz Al al-Sheikh, published on his website, said cinemas and round-the-clock entertainment could open the door to "atheistic or rotten" foreign films and encourage the mixing of the sexes.
Cinemas and public concerts are already banned in the conservative Islamic kingdom. But the government promised a shake-up of the cultural scene with a set of "Vision 2030" reforms announced by Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz last year.
The head of the government's General Authority for Entertainment, Amr al-Madani, stirred debate last week when he raised the possibility of opening cinemas and staging concerts this year.
The Saudi Gazette quoted Madani as saying Saudi singer Mohammed Abdo would perform in the Red Sea port city of Jeddah very soon. Up to now, singers have been limited to performing for private gatherings.
"I hope those in charge of the Entertainment Authority are guided to turn it from bad to good and not to open doors to evil," Al al-Sheikh said on his weekly television program, according to a transcript of his comments on his website.
"Motion pictures may broadcast shameless, immoral, atheistic or rotten films," Al al-Sheikh said.
"The Mufti...also stressed that there is nothing good in song parties, for entertainment day and night and opening of movie houses at all times is an invitation to mixing of sexes," he added.
The "Vision 2030" initiative is meant to jumpstart the private sector, provide jobs for a growing population and open up Saudis' cloistered lifestyles.
The plan's said it considers culture and entertainment "indispensable to our quality of life".
In remarks carried by Foreign Affairs magazine last week, Prince Mohammed said he believed only a small percentage of clerics were too dogmatic to be reasoned with while more than half could be persuaded through engagement and dialogue to support the plan.
In a country that adheres to an austere brand of Wahhabi Sunni Islam, where gender segregation is mandatory and concerts and cinemas are banned, the plan's seemingly anodyne goals to empower women, promote sports and invest in entertainment are controversial.
Saudi Arabia's clerics offer legitimacy and public support to a king who styles himself the guardian of Islam's holiest sites. They retain control of the justice system but leave most other matters of governance to him, so long as his edicts do not contradict their interpretation of Islamic law.
read more: http://www.haaretz.com/middle-east-news/1.765155
White Girl Is ‘DISOWNED’ BY PARENTS . . . For Dating Black Man . . . So She Raises $12K From GoFundMe . . . To Pay For Her COLLEGE!!
A White girl is getting her COLLEGE TUITION PAID by strangers – after she was CUT OFF by her family, for dating a Black man.
Five days before the inauguration of Donald Trump as our 45th president, we take a look back at our 44th president, Barack Obama. Our Cover Story is reported by Martha Teichner:
“Because of what we did on this date in this election at this defining moment, change has come to America.”
It was a moment that seemed to hold so much promise, such optimism: Barack Obama facing that sea of supporters in Chicago on November 4, 2008, after being elected our first African-American president:
“And where we are met with cynicism and doubt and those who tell us that we can’t, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people: ‘Yes, we can.’”
What began that night is ending now. The assessment of the Obama legacy is already underway.
“I think that moment, that Grant Park moment, will be remembered symbolically in history as a moment when America thought, ‘We’ve done something and we feel good about that,’” said Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Doris Kearns Goodwin.
“In history, we always talk about, is it the man or is it the times that makes for a presidential legacy? And that moment in Grant Park, it seemed like the man was even bigger than the times.” But “the times” set the agenda from Day One. As soon as Barack Obama took the oath of office, he inherited the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. The big banks, and GM and Chrysler, were teetering. Unemployment was pushing 8%.
It’s easy to forget how scary it was. Now, unemployment is 4.7%. Since early 2010, more than 15 million jobs have been created. By most accounts, a big check in the plus column of the Obama legacy tally.
“It’s a huge achievement to save the economy,” said Goodwin. “It’s not something that’s just a statistical thing you’ve done; you’ve affected people’s lives and affected their futures. And that is real.”
For President Obama, virtually every accomplishment was a struggle. He was blindsided by the partisan ugliness of the opening battles, as he told our Lee Cowan a year ago: “In those early months, my expectation was, is that we could pull the parties together a little more effectively,” he said.
In 2010, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell defined what Democrats call Republican obstructionism: “Our top political priority over the next two years,” he told the Heritage Foundation, “should be to deny President Obama a second term.” Not one Republican, in either the House or the Senate, voted for the Affordable Care Act, what came to be known as Obamacare. The president wanted his signature expansion of health care insurance to be the biggest check in his legacy “plus” column, but Republicans are already dismantling it.
What about President Obama’s foreign policy legacy?
“Tonight I can report to the American people and to the world that the United States has conducted an operation that killed Osama Bin Laden, the leader of Al-Qaeda.”
The killing of bin Laden: Definitely, a plus. The way he pulled out of Iraq and Afghanistan, the Iran nuclear deal, the now-dead-on-arrival Trans-Pacific Partnership, claimed by the administration as pluses; by his critics, not so much. And his handling of Syria, according to many policy experts, a big check in the “minus” column.
“I would argue that the decision not to make good on the American threat on Syrian use of chemical weapons was the single biggest flaw and mistake of Barack Obama’s presidency,” said Richard Haass, president of the non-partisan Council on Foreign Relations in New York. “This sent a message to our friends and our allies, who are inherently dependent on us, that we could not be counted on.
“And I think he had a view of the world that it would somehow sort itself out just fine even if the United States made the decision to do a lot less, and that’s simply wrong. What we’ve learned, particularly in the Middle East, but also elsewhere, is if the United States dials down, benign forces don’t fill the space.”
“Now I’ve lived long enough to know that race relations are better than they were 10 or 20 or 30 years ago, no matter what some folks say.”
Which brings us to what may be President Obama’s most provocative legacy: He changed the conversation about the nation’s social issues.
“The idea that people now talk about systemic racism and systemic bias, that it showed up on the campaign trail, that’s new,” said New York Times op-ed columnist Charles Blow. “The idea that it bubbles to the top while he is president is a real thing.”
“That can’t be undone,” said Teichner.
“You can’t put that genie back in the bottle,” said Blow. “Now that is at the top, on the surface. Now we have to deal with that.” Just this past Friday, Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced the results of a 13-month investigation of the Chicago Police Department. For Chicago, substitute Ferguson, Baltimore, Cleveland … to name some of the cities whose police practices have been scrutinized. “That is him,” Blow said. “That is the influence that he is having on our discussion. And that comes to the front during the Obama years.”
Now consider this:
“Strangely enough, it’s not really him being African-American, I think, that is most remarkable of his eight years,” Blow said. “It is the incredible movement on issues like same-sex marriage and gay rights and inclusion. It has been the civil rights movement of our time, and it has changed over his tenure more than at any other time in American history.”
But what has also changed in President Obama’s eight years: devastating Democratic Party losses at the polls have left Republicans firmly in charge -- a big minus that will have an impact on his legacy.
Still, for historians, how a president is judged changes over time.
“When you think about Harry Truman having left the presidency with such a low level of approval rating, and yet now being considered one of the near-great presidents,” said Goodwin. “And you think about President Johnson having left the presidency with such sadness, feeling like the Vietnam War was a scar forever on his legacy. there’s no question that domestically he did far more than we realized at the time.”
Teichner asked, “Do you think history will be kind to President Obama’s presidency?” “I do.”
The symbolism of President Obama’s legacy can’t be ignored. The image of this particular first family, of a president who sang his heart out over the killings in that Charleston church, of a White House that was hip for a change.
Is symbolism equal in value in assessing a president’s legacy -- President Obama’s legacy -- as legislative achievement?
Charles Blow said, “I think absolutely. I believe in image. I believe in representation. I believe that it is a powerful, powerful thing. I have three kids who have grown up, and they have never known anything but a black president. I mean, their consciousness about a president begins with him.”
In his farewell address last week, President Obama said, “I am asking you to hold fast to that faith written into our founding documents.”
It is with symbolism in mind that President Barack Obama returned to Chicago -- where it all began -- to say goodbye, and to consign his presidency to history.
“A creed at the core of every American whose story is not yet written: Yes, we can. Yes, we did. Yes, we can. Thank you, God bless you, may God continue to bless the United States of America.”